Former Vice President Joe Biden once again distorted his record on the Iraq War on Monday, claiming he never believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and he only voted in favor of the conflict to pressure U.N. weapons inspectors into the country.
Biden, who is facing criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over his foreign policy record, was asked during an interview with MSNBC’s Lawerence O’Donnell if he regretted his role in leading the nation into war. The former vice president alleged that his 2002 vote for authorizing military force against Iraq was, contrary to the claim of progressives, an effort to keep the country out of war.
“The reason I voted the way I did, was to try to prevent a war from happening,” Biden told O’Donnell. “Remember the threat was to go to war, the argument was the Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
Biden proceeded to argue then-President George W. Bush had convinced him that an authorization of force would only be used “to put pressure on Saddam to find out whether or not he was producing nuclear weapons.” The former vice president added that at the time of the vote he did not believe Bush would actually move toward war, nor that Hussein was actually producing WMDs.
“The rationale was that’s the way to not go to war, because I didn’t believe yet there was nuclear weapons,” Biden said. “I didn’t believe yet there were weapons of mass destruction.”
The claim, which Biden has made frequently before the media and voters, stands in stark contrast to his public comments and actions in the leadup to the war.
As Breitbart News reported in January, Biden was urging the U.S. government to pursue a strategy to “dethrone” Hussein as early as 1998. Biden, then the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was one of President Bill Clinton’s most vocal allies in pushing Hussein to abide by terms established after the Gulf War to destroy Iraq’s stockpile on chemical weapons.
Hussein created the impasse between himself and the Clinton administration by ordering U.N. weapons inspectors to leave Iraq over alleged spying. Many believed Hussein had orchestrated the maneuver to pressure the U.S. and other western governments to lift the economic sanctions that had crippled Iraq’s economy since the Gulf War. Tensions only increased when Hussein was accused of trying to expand his arsenal to include nuclear and biological weapons—commonly referred to as weapons of mass destruction.
Under such circumstances, the Clinton administration amped up its campaign to pressure Hussein to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq. As part of the effort, the U.S. government signaled it was open to a preemptive strike against sites believed to be central to Iraq’s nuclear arsenal.
One of the strongest backers of a military response was Biden. At the height of the standoff in September 1998, then-Senator Biden made his views about Iraq and it’s purported WMDs clear during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the matter.
“Many of us believe here, as long as Saddam is at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect … [any weapons] inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out … the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction,” Biden said at the hearing.
“All of us here really know, and it’s a thing we have to face, that the only way, the only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein … and it’s going to require guys … in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking this son of a—taking Saddam down,” he added.
Biden’s resolve would be tested less than two months later. In November 1998, the same day Hussein announced he would accept “positively any initiative” to end economic sanctions, Biden backed Clinton’s decision to deploy bombers to the Persian Gulf in preparation for a potential strike.
Biden “expressed support for the use of force, saying failure to do so ‘will only embolden Saddam to take an increasingly more aggressive posture on production of weapons … and threaten his neighbors again.’ Biden also urged a sustained effort to “dethrone him over the long haul,” the Washington Post reported at the time.
During the coming weeks, Biden would continue pushing for Clinton to take military action. The president, who had already bombed Iraq twice before, seemed to need little push, especially as revelations of his affair with a former White House intern dominated the domestic political scene.
In December, six days after the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Clinton, the president initiated an extensive military strike. Spread over four days, U.S. forces launched 415 cruise missiles and dropped more than 600 bombs on 97 sites believed to be essential to Hussein’s production of weapons of mass destruction. Included on the list of targets were 11 weapons factories, 18 security facilities, nine military installations, six air fields, and one oil refinery, among others.
Biden, according to Clinton staffers, played a key role in convincing the president to move against Hussein, despite concerns from some the timing could appear brazenly political.
The Post recounted:
On Tuesday night [Clinton’s] national security adviser … called Sen. Joseph Biden, among others, and asked whether the bombing would raise a storm of charges that [the president] had wrought a war of political self preservation. Biden, according to one account, advised Clinton to put on his raincoat—and launch anyway.
Biden, for his part, would remain steadfast in that view, even after Clinton’s 1998 bombing campaign proved futile, with many claiming it only served to embolden Hussein into taking a position of no compromise.
The issue comes back into the political forefront as the former vice president and Sanders vie for the 2020 Democrat nomination. Sanders, who openly shared concerns about Clinton’s 1998 preemptive strike and later voted against the Iraq War, is highlighting the issue as polls show his campaign flailing but also indicate Democrats are unwilling to support a nominee with foreign policy baggage.
“Joe is going to have to explain to the American people, who are so tired of endless wars which have cost us too many lives … why he was a leader in getting us involved in the war in Iraq,” Sanders said at a recent campaign rally.